Since its foundation just over seventy years ago, the Museum of the History of Science has been better known for its work in charting the history of technology than it has for partaking in the use of new technologies – until recently, the computer used by the secretary was about the only example of a calculating device owned by the Museum to contain a microchip. However, over the last few months the Museum has taken the first steps towards joining the information technology revolution, through the installation of an up-to-date computer system.
| During January and February of this year, cabling was installed in the Museum, linking together all the galleries and offices through a computer ‘Ethernet’. In March, this internal network was connected to the outside world, via a fibre-optic link to the University’s Ethernet backbone. In April, delivery was taken of five new computers to attach to the network, with the result that the Museum can finally be declared ‘on line’. Those who wish to can now contact the Museum by electronic mail, at the address email@example.com.
| Substantial work lies ahead in the development of the new system, but over the course of the next six months a number of facilities will be made available to staff, as well as to users of the library, Museum visitors, and anyone with access to the global Internet. High on the list of priorities is the creation of a ‘virtual collection’ of the Museum’s contents – a computerized database of text and images that will provide quick access to indexed information about each of the 10,000 or so objects in the collection.
| Perhaps the most significant advantage that the new computers will offer is the ability to prepare publications entirely ‘in-house’. Almost all the pre-press production of a publication can now be done within the Museum: full-colour illustrations of a quality fit for publication can be scanned into the computer, layout can be carried out by staff, and proofs can be printed. The printer need only be handed a floppy disc, bringing down the cost of publication significantly.
| Computers also make novel forms of publication possible and the Museum intends to explore these fully. In the future, CD-ROMs will be published to accompany exhibitions, but to begin with, material will be made available to the public through the ‘World Wide Web’. By the autumn, anyone with access to the Web will be able to browse through pages of information about the Museum, obtain details of current exhibitions, view images of objects in the collection, and even read an electronic edition of this newsletter. Other readers need not fear: there are no plans yet to discontinue printing Sphæra on paper.